Imagine you are traveling along a frosty, winter road, through a neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri. It is close to 4 am, and the night is bitter cold. Something catches your eye on the darkened front porch of the house you just passed. You look closer and you see it, a young boy is seated on the front porch, playing with toys, eating candy…and next to him is a stack of newspapers…
This is not the usual thing you would expect to see in the early morning hours, on the day after Christmas. But why would it be? The young man sitting there would grow up to be anything but usual…
As you continue to watch, you see the boy finish eating, carefully line up the toys he was playing with, pick up his newspapers and then march away from the house…heading for his next stop. He is the newspaper boy.
The description you just read, is indeed something that you might have seen if you had been in the right place at the right time. The newspaper boy was unknown to the world at that time but would day become one of the most recognized faces and names on the planet. It was none other than Walt Disney.
If you are familiar with Walt’s life you know a little something about his life history. His dad, Elias, bought a newspaper distributorship in Kansas City, Mo., so he became responsible for making sure the paper was distributed each day in a particular region. Owning the route, he then hired paper boys to deliver the papers. Walt, was one the boys that delivered the papers but was paid nothing. That was the down side of being employed by his father. Elias felt that since he provided clothing and food for his son that was payment enough and this opportunity gave Walt a chance to earn his keep and learn responsibility.
Now Walt had a good work ethic for a child. Disney historians recall for us that he earned extra money by delivering prescriptions for a drugstore and would sell extra newspapers on street corners without his father knowing about it. This enabled him to earn a bit of pocket change for himself. He would sweep and clean the candy store across from the school in return for a hot meal. At the end of each school day there was not as much time as he would like for playing with his buddies because the afternoon edition of the newspaper had to be delivered.
Young Walt’s route was in a fairly wealthy neighborhood. His family worked hard to be sure, but they didn’t have much. This neighborhood was full of people that financially made the Disney’s look like paupers. Each day as Walt made his way along the route he was encountering homes and lifestyles that we very different than the life he knew. Every morning at 3:30 am, Walt would trudge out into the streets and in the winter it was brutal and tough. Ice, snow, and frigid temperatures might be waiting for him on any given winter morning. As he made his way to each house he discovered that sometimes the kids in the neighborhood had left out their toys after playing with them at the end of the day.
Walt didn’t have a lot of real toys. The gifts he got from his parents tended to be practical like underwear or a perhaps a jacket. His older brother Roy and his mom would be the ones who set aside some extra money so that Walt and his sister Ruth would get some surprise, special small toy for Christmas.
But on the porches of these homes were toys that Walt had only dreamed of. During the darkness of the early morning hours, Walt would put his paper carrier down and go up and play with the wind-up trains and things. He’d sit there and play all alone with them. Years later he would recall a time when he came to a porch and there were some toys, as well as a box of half-eaten candy. So he sat there and ate some of the half-eaten candy and played.
When Walt talked about these days, he always insisted he always left the toys in good shape and always put them back in the exact same place so the families wouldn’t know he’d played with them. Then it was off to the next porch, to drop off the next paper, and then finish the route and off to school.
The life lessons learned on these frosty front porches stuck with Walt all of his life. Years later, as the head of the Disney Studios, he would take the time each year to give gifts to hundreds of children, making sure each got a large Disney merchandise item, as well as additional gifts. They were all wrapped individually and Walt kept a staff of people working to make this happen in a special area set aside at the studios, it took nearly two months each year to pull it off. The original Toys for Tots logo would be designed by a Disney animator, with Walt throwing his support and energy to the cause…to make sure kids had toys at Christmas.
Many of us face moments in life that we will never forget. A great number of these moments are good memories…others are born in the time of struggle.
Often these moments define us forever…but how they define us is up to each of us as individuals.
The young boy, playing in the cold, was defined by his upbringing…but as he grew older it helped drive him to success. When success arrived, he never forgot what it was like to be in need and desire something that was beyond his reach.
I’m not sure what each of us will face this Christmas season. Perhaps it is a time that is full of good memories and all is right with the world. Perhaps it is a time where you may be struggling…but no matter what you are facing, never forget to learn from what is happening, strive to find something to hold onto and embrace, and whenever and wherever possible…remember to give back to others.
You can make the world a better place…for not only others…but for yourself as well.